Youths Cautiously Sharing Mental Health Histories

 

Taken from boston. com   which is located   HERE.

More than any previous group of American youth, Chandra Watts and her peers grew up hearing about ADHD, bipolar, and Prozac.

As a generation, they were more psychologically attuned — and diagnosed — than any other. Mental disorders, they were told, should be viewed no differently from physical illnesses, and cause no shame.

So when Watts was 15 and hospitalized in the midst of severe mood swings, she thought she could safely confide in a good friend. But that friend ended up telling someone else, who told someone else, and then word got out. Watts was devastated.

“I became known as the School Crazy,” said Watts, now 25 and attending community college in Worcester.

Seasoned by that experience, but undaunted, Watts is among a growing number of young people wrestling with a political and personal dilemma: They want to lead efforts to curb long-held prejudices against people with mental illness, but must carefully consider what they say publicly to protect their image as they enter the adult world. They also face challenges not confronted by previous generations: The Internet and social networking sites can turn casual remarks into permanent records, easily searched by college admissions officers and potential employers.

Several national efforts are underway to help young people with this problem. YouthMOVE Massachusetts, part of a national group focused on youth mental health issues, is sponsoring a program next month called Strategic Sharing, in which Watts and others will learn when and how to filter what they say, depending on the situation. This program, created by Casey Family Programs, counsels young people with mental illness how to promote awareness of psychiatric issues but not share too much that might hurt them on the job or in new relationships.

A program called LETS (Let’s Erase The Stigma), launched two years ago in Southern California, has drawn several thousand teenagers to form school chapters to increase understanding and acceptance of mental illness, said Phil Fontilea, the founder and a former business executive with his own history of depression.

The organization also helps youth talk about mental disorders in a way that emphasizes treatment and recovery.

Mental health clinicians and advocates say they are careful in tapping the idealism and energy of youth, realizing that many Americans still hold deep prejudices, often out of ignorance or unfamiliarity.

Mark Picciotto, a psychologist who runs McLean Hospital’s residential program for teens with mental illness in Brockton, said the nonjudgmental attitude that is so encouraged among today’s young “is not guaranteed in the real world.”

This generation does not necessarily suffer from more mental health problems than previous ones, but they are diagnosed with conditions such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, and anxiety at a far higher rate, said Kathleen Merikangas, a senior investigator for the National Institute of Mental Health.

During the past 20 years, roughly 1 in 10 children under age 18 have exhibited behaviors that qualify for a diagnosis of a serious behavioral, emotional or mental disorder — however, two decades ago, only about 10 percent of these children were diagnosed and treated, compared with roughly 50 percent today, she said.

One teenage girl from Southeastern Massachusetts said she knows mental diagnoses are more common in her generation, but she still believes many of her peers shun those with mental issues.

“The majority of people are judgmental,” said the high school student, who suffers from depression and anxiety and has experienced suicidal thoughts.

The teenager said she wishes she could be more open and spur societal changes in attitudes toward mental illness.

But after once telling a friend privately a couple years ago that she was hospitalized for mental health treatment, she learned that that confidence was betrayed, and she started feeling stigmatized by others.

“I was embarrassed,” the teenager said.

Now, she said, only about 10 friends know “the real story,” and the rest of the people are simply led to believe a physical ailment causes her to miss school sometimes. When classmates joke, “I want to kill myself,” after getting a bad test result, she doesn’t find it funny — and it only affirms her decision to keep much of her struggles with depression a secret. Though she didn’t want to be named for the article to protect her privacy, she said she wanted to be interviewed, to let teens with similar problems know “they aren’t the only ones.”

McLean’s Picciotto said he finds that young people whose mental issues surfaced through self-destructive behaviors, such as binge drinking, often more readily reveal that they are undergoing treatment to emphasize their commitment to change. Other youths, such as those who were victims of sexual assault or parental neglect, often are more private.

Eric Lulow, a national spokesman for YouthMOVE, said the digital media age makes it even harder for young people to know how much to reveal, even if they want to help promote greater understanding of mental heath issues.

Lulow told a recent gathering in Massachusetts about how he was shocked after a woman he was dating admitted knowing about his physical abuse as a child. She learned about it reading a 2009 interview he gave to a Maryland newspaper, available on the Internet.

“If you Google me now, you’ll find it,” he told the annual conference of the Parent/Professional Advocacy League, a mental health advocacy group in Massachusetts.

He said young people have to weigh the benefits of sharing psychological struggles, such as enabling people to “get you” better and helping to dispel negative stereotypes about mental illness, against the risks, including affecting your public image and triggering painful memories.

Meanwhile, mental health advocates applaud signs that young people want to play a role in ending stereotypes and fears about those with psychiatric issues.

Earlier this year, a nonprofit organization, Bring Change 2 Mind, founded by actress Glenn Close to fight the stigma of mental illness, was flooded with online testimonials from teenagers and young adults after its public-service video aired on “American Idol.”

The television show’s producers requested the video, produced by director Ron Howard, after a 17-year-old contestant admitted on air that she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, said the nonprofit’s executive director, Pamela Harrington.

Next month, Watts, the Worcester college student, is undergoing training in Strategic Sharing, and hopes to use those skills to teach other young people.

She said that though she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a teen, her therapists say she now has generalized anxiety disorder and she is now off her daily psychotropic medications.

Cash’s Story Living With Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

I am very excited to share this article. Cash shares about his life, which includes PTSD and Depression in a very honest and open way. I hope you are encouraged and will remember Cash in your prayers.  Allan  May, 2008

Update:  I have fallen out of contact with Cash but believe his story is worth re-publishing.  Please remember him in your prayers.  Allan

 

 

 

 

I am a Christian who suffers with a mental illness. It has affected me in many ways, including my walk with God. Even as I write this, I must be honest and tell you that I am in he midst of a mild relapse of my symptoms. I am very depressed, but I am not despairing. I have hope, because Jesus is alive and He loves me.

I’ve been abused a lot in my life. I just turned 40 years old. When I was a child, my father was a violent alcoholic. He physically beat up my mother in front of me and my siblings so many times. Once I watched as he hit my mother in the face with a phone receiver and broke the bones in her face. He left huge welts on my legs once after he beat me with a piece of plastic race track. Once he put the entire family out on the freeway because he was angry at my mother. He verbally berated all of us.

So mom finally divorced him when I was eight. She did the best she could, but she had a lot of substance abuse problems. She felt bad that I had to grow up without a dad, so she got me involved in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization. The man that was my Big Brother was so nice to me. He bought me snow skis and taught me to ski, and would take me all the time. He took me on a lot of road trips. I really loved him.

I didn’t understand at the time that he was grooming me. He sexually molested me. I told my mom and he was gone from my life. Another loss..the damage done.

I did a lot of drugs and drank a lot of alcohol even as a kid, trying to deaden the pain. Mom married a couple more times..every time I started to like one of them, she’d divorce them. She tried to kill herself a few different times. That tends to mess with a kid’s mind.

The substance abuse got so bad that when I was 15, my mom enrolled me in a substance abuse program. The counselor there required me to attend a youth group at his church as part of my treatment.

I went there stoned. The youth pastor looked right at me and said, “You might be high even right now, but Jesus can still save you, He still loves you, you can come to Him just as you are.”

I believed in Jesus Christ that night, and it literally changed everything. I quit taking drugs, quit drinking, and got serious about school.

I met a girl at school and I told her about Jesus and she believed in Him too. Unfortunately, we sinned and she got pregnant when I was 17, and we got married. I went into the Army. Just the place for someone with abuse issues to go.

While in the Army, we continued to follow Jesus, but it was hard because we were away from our home church.

In 1991, I was deployed to Iraq for Operation Desert Storm. I was an artilleryman, and was involved in combat operations. By God’s mercy, I came home alive and in one piece.

But something was wrong. When I got home, I was very different. I couldn’t sleep well. I had flashbacks of my experiences in the desert, and I became extremely anxious and depressed. The Army doctors diagnosed me with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

I couldn’t understand what was happening to me. After all, I’m a Christian. I thought I should be able to fix everything through prayer and reading the Bible. There was only one problem–the PTSD, which is classified as an anxiety disorder, made me so “revved-up” that I literally could not pray. I could not slow my mind down enough to be able to sit and talk with Jesus. I couldn’t focus, couldn’t concentrate on reading.

I thought that I was just in sin, that I couldn’t pray because there was sin in my life. Because I didn’t understand, I walked away from Him. I went back to my old ways and started drinking heavily again. This caused much anguish and stress for my wife.

I continued to sink down to the point where I became suicidal. One night, after a night of heavy drinking, I went into my garage and shut the door, got in my van, started it up and cranked the tunes. I was going to end it all right then.

My wife found me in the garage and stopped my suicide attempt. To this day, she does not know why or how she woke up at that particular moment. We believe an angel woke her up.

At one point, I was hospitalized at a VA hospital–for four months. I still was not looking to the Lord. I still had trouble praying and reading, and besides, I reasoned, I’m sure God’s pretty mad at me right now.

I screwed everything up. My two kids at the time (we had two more a little later), were in their formative years. Thank God I didn’t abuse them physically or anything, but I was just emotionally absent. I really tried hard to be a good dad, but I could only do so much. I was very limited by my emotional disabilities. Mainly hard-core depression, caused by the post-traumatic stress disorder.

After many different medications that did not help, the VA doctor finally found some medication that actually started to make the depression lift. It did not take away the depression, just made it a little more bearable, much like pain medication helps when someone is in physical pain.

I didn’t work for ten years. One night I was laying on my couch and I turned on the radio. I don’t even know why I turned it to a Christian station, but I heard Pastor Jon Courson teaching on Revelation. At that moment, literally, I turned my heart back to Jesus. I believe it was nothing but a work of God’s grace in my life. I didn’t deserve it, I didn’t even really want it, but somehow, God turned my heart toward home.

I began to attend church again, and entered a ministry training program. Because of all my experiences, I was able to understand hurting people and the issues they face. The church asked me to come on staff as a lay pastoral counselor.

Today, I am still struggling with PTSD and my relationship with God. But as I said initially, I still have that hope.

I would like to share a few lessons learned the hard way, especially for Christians with a mental illness and in particular younger people who might be suffering right now.

1. The “Why” question is irrelevant.

I have found that asking why this has all happened to me and why this and why that is simply a waste of time and energy. For some reason, the sovereign God does not seem inclined to share all the answers with me right now. Maybe He will someday, but it can drive you to despair thinking about the whys and wherefores of it all.

2. We must come to an acceptance of our illness.

Only by accepting that we are ill, just as though we had diabetes or some other physical illness, can we begin to come to terms with what has happened to us. When we choose to accept it, we can seek help without fear.

3. Thankfulness is everything.

This is a very interesting one. Most depressed people, me included, tend to focus on the dark side of life. Researchers have found that cognitive therapy really works. Cognitive therapy is changing your thinking patterns. Instead of always focusing on the darkness, try to find God’s blessing in every event. This may sound Pollyannish, but remember, God told us about “cognitive therapy” in his Word.

Paul tells us in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Ephesians 5:20-”Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;”

1 Thessalonians 5:18-In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

I have heard pastors teach that this doesn’t mean we should be thankful FOR everything, but IN everything. But I disagree; the Ephesians passage clearly says to be thankful for everything. Be thankful that my foot got run over by a bulldozer?? Yeah, because it could have been your head! Be thankful that I suffer depression? Yes, even that. Does your depression make you cry to God for mercy? Does it help you understand hurting people better, and perhaps give you a deeper compassion for them that you might otherwise have?

These are only some of the lessons I have learned. Please understand that I am still struggling with my illness and probably will for the rest of my life. I’m still on a journey, and I certainly don’t want to be like those guys that say I WAS messed up, but now I’m all better and i’m going to tell you how to get where I am.

Nope. I’m here with you. I’m not thankful all the time. But I know I need to be. We need Jesus. Sometimes I chafe at my illness instead of accepting it. I fight with God about it. And I still ask why way too much.

All I know is that we are deeply loved by Jesus and the Father and the Spirit and He is sovereign, in control of everything that happens to us and in us.

Learning From Suffering: Streams In The Desert, July 21st, 2012

“If I am in distress, it is in the interests of your comfort, which is effective as it nerves you to endure the same sufferings as I suffered myself. Hence my hope for you is well-founded, since I know that as you share the sufferings you share the comfort also” 2 Corinthians 1:6, 7
Are there not some in your circle to whom you naturally betake yourself in times of trial and sorrow? They always seem to speak the right word, to give the very counsel you are longing for; you do not realize, however, the cost which they had to pay ere they became so skillful in binding up the gaping wounds and drying tears. But if you were to investigate their past history you would find that they have suffered more than most. They have watched the slow untwisting of some silver cord on which the lamp of life hung. They have seen the golden bowl of joy dashed to their feet, and its contents spilt. They have stood by ebbing tides, and drooping gourds, and noon sunsets; but all this has been necessary to make them the nurses, the physicians, the priests of men. The boxes that come from foreign climes are clumsy enough; but they contain spices which scent the air with the fragrance of the Orient. So suffering is rough and hard to bear; but it hides beneath it discipline, education, possibilities, which not only leave us nobler, but perfect us to help others. Do not fret, or set your teeth, or wait doggedly for the suffering to pass; but get out of it all you can, both for yourself and for your service to your generation, according to the will of God.  –Selected
***
Once I heard a song of sweetness,
As it cleft the morning air,
Sounding in its blest completeness,
Like a tender, pleading prayer;
And I sought to find the singer,
Whence the wondrous song was borne;
And I found a bird, sore wounded,
Pinioned by a cruel thorn.
I have seen a soul in sadness,
While its wings with pain were furl’d,
Giving hope, and cheer and gladness
That should bless a weeping world;
And I knew that life of sweetness,
Was of pain and sorrow row borne,
And a stricken soul was singing,
With its heart against a thorn.
Ye are told of One who loved you,
Of a Saviour crucified,
Ye are told of nails that pinioned,
And a spear that pierced His side;
Ye are told of cruel scourging,
Of a Saviour bearing scorn,
And He died for your salvation,
With His brow against a thorn.
Ye “are not above the Master.”
Will you breathe a sweet refrain?
And His grace will be sufficient,
When your heart is pierced with pain.
Will you live to bless His loved ones,
Tho’ your life be bruised and torn,
Like the bird that sang so sweetly,
With its heart against a thorn?
–Selected

Praise & Worship: July 20th, 2012

Song List

1.  How Deep The Father’s Love For Us-  Sarah Sadler

2.  He Is With You-  Mandisa

3.  My Help Comes From The Lord-  The Museum

4.  Better Than A Hallelujah-  Amy Grant

5.  My Redeemer Lives-  Bob Bennett

6.  Praise You In The Storm-  Casting Crowns

7. All Is Well-  Robin Mark

8.  Never Alone-  BarlowGirl

9.  Happy Day-  Kim Walker

10.  Most Of All-  Glenn Kaiser

11.  Desperate-  Fireflight

Schizophrenia In Movies: Don’t Believe Everything You See

 

 

FRIDAY, July 13 (HealthDay News) — Movies often stereotype people with schizophrenia as being violent and unpredictable, says a researcher who claims Hollywood dispenses misinformation about symptoms, causes and treatment of this mental illness.

For the study, published in the July issue of Psychiatric Services, Patricia Owen of the psychology department at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, reviewed 41 English-language films released between 1990 and 2010 that featured at least one main character with schizophrenia.

Owen found that 83 percent of those characters were portrayed as dangerous or violent to others or themselves. Almost one-third engaged in homicidal behavior, and one-quarter committed suicide, the researcher said.

According to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, the risk of violence is small among people with schizophrenia. But suicide risk is higher than average. About 10 percent, mostly young men, do kill themselves, the agency notes.

Delusions, auditory and visual hallucinations, and disorganized speech or thought were displayed by most of the characters, the study author pointed out in a news release from the American Psychiatric Association.

But much more common symptoms of schizophrenia — such as flat affect, lack of speech and lack of motivation — were seen much less frequently.

Although schizophrenia incidence is nearly equal among women and men, almost 80 percent of the characters with schizophrenia were male, the study found.

The review noted, however, the movies did get some characterizations of schizophrenia right. Specifically, about half of the characters had low socioeconomic status, which is consistent with data on the illness. Moreover, about half of the movies depicted or alluded to the use of medication to treat the mental illness. Psychotherapy and group therapy were not portrayed often.

Owen suggested that more research is needed to understand how films influence public perceptions about schizophrenia, and to determine how to increase empathy and understanding.

Films featuring a character with schizophrenia include A Beautiful Mind and Donnie Darko.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health provides more information on schizophrenia.

Dangerous Discernings

A Pharisee.

I wrote this article on July 15th, 2008.  Sadly it is still relevant.  Allan

As a young Christian I lived in the days when many were looking for the Rapture of the Church.  It’s no secret that the year 1981 was seen as the latest that the church would be here by so many people in the Calvary Chapel movement.

There were books, videos, and teaching that taught us to look up, for our redemption was near.  Reading the daily newspaper seemed to indicate that we’d gone about as far as we could go.  The earth was wrought with every type of sin and false religions were rampant.

I recall taking people to church to see movies such as “A Thief In The Night” that drove home the fact that the end was near and you needed to get right with God.  Many folks walked forward to be saved after seeing the movies and hearing the Gospel message.  Those were exciting times.  Little did many of us think we would still be here thirty years later.  But here we are.

As we look at the news today we see how wrong we were back in the mid to late 70′s when we thought things couldn’t get much worse .  With the advent of the internet and cable television we really don’t need a morning paper as it’s old news by the time it’s delivered to our homes.  I won’t list all of the terrible things that are going on in the world but we now realize how much worse things could and have become.  Many of us are concerned about the world we will be leaving to our children and grandchildren. Things certainly have changed.

As Christians, we aren’t without hope.  We serve the living God and He promises to never leave or forsake us.  He has given His Spirit to indwell us and give us the power to live in this fallen world.  He has left us His Word as a guide to live the Christian life and how others might enter into that life.

Most importantly, He gave us His only begotten Son to fulfill the law, die on the cross, and to rise from the dead in His physical body three days later.  He then ascended to Heaven, where He sits at the right hand of the Father making intercession for each of us.  We have a hope beyond this life and it’s real and it’s forever.

We see the beginning of the New Testament church in the book of Acts when God’s Spirit fell upon those in the upper room and we see Peter preach the first sermon where three thousand were added to the church in one day.  What a glorious beginning!

History tells us that glorious beginning wasn’t to last.  Persecution came and Christians were killed in the most heinous ways.  Those saints died with the name of Jesus on their lips.  They would not deny Him.

It wasn’t long before the purity of the Gospel message was being challenged on every front.  Quite often, it was the person of Jesus who was the focal point of these attacks.  He still is to this day.

Every cult and ‘ism that comes along will tell you that Jesus is not God the Son, second person of the Trinity.  They may say He is the son of God, but what they are really saying is He is not God the Son, but something a bit lower.  That will always be a false Jesus.  The majority of people in our world do not believe the Gospel message but choose instead to embrace something different.

Through the centuries God has raised up men and women to defend Biblical truths.  They serve as Watchmen for the church as they discern false teachings and in turn educate the church so we won’t be taken in by a lie.

Some have been raised up to expose error in  today’s church.  That is an important duty as we know that false teachers will and have infiltrated the church. We need to be made aware of this as these false teachers are quite cunning in their deception as they peddle their blasphemous teachings.  God bless those who look out for the spiritual welfare of the church.

Sadly, something has happened along the way when it comes to discerning what is truth and what is error.  That something has been individuals and ministries who have gone too far with their search for that which they deem as false, dangerous, and at times even non-Christian.  As a result, nobody is safe as someone has deemed them or their ministry dangerous.  Many Christians are left wondering what exactly is a safe church or ministry as so many have been ‘exposed’ in one fashion or other.

Some well-meaning people and some who are not so well-meaning in the church have decided to ‘expose’ the myth of Christian counseling and the use of medication to help those in the church who are suffering mentally.  As the number of books and ministries who have deemed the world of mental illness as it relates to the church continues to grow very innocent Christians are stigmatized.  These individuals include Christian counselors, Christian psychiatrists and Christians who suffer with a mental illness.

Christian counselors are painted as taking their cues from godless individuals who had no room for God in their lives.  They supposedly go about telling us we need more self-esteem and to love ourselves more.

They claim sin is never mentioned but these ‘sold out’ counselors find ways to pepper their counseling sessions with a few feel good scripture verses while doing nothing but further damaging their Christian patients. Hurting Christians are seen as cash cows being fed counsel that is not Biblical and therefore powerless to offer anything of value.  They are accused of demeaning the Word of God as they have elevated the ways of man to the same level as the Bible itself.

Christian psychiatrists are seen as passing out mind altering medication like candy to people who don’t need it.  Their vocation has been likened to voodoo and witchcraft creating a population of drug addicts that provide them a lucrative income.  Their clients are seen as victims more than anything else.

It would be unfair not to mention that there are counselors and psychiatrists who advertise themselves as Christian who are guilty of the things that are being used to broad brush ALL Christians who make their living as counselors or psychiatrists.  At the same time it is unfair to think that all Christians who counsel or offer psychiatric services for a living are compromised in any fashion.

Where this really hits home for untold numbers of Christians suffering with mental illness is that their faith in God is now up for speculation and for some, outright judgment.  The fruit of the above is why this blog exists.

We live in a day when science demonstrates that mental illness is a PHYSICAL issue just as cancer or the common flu.  Christians who would never think of calling the faith of a cancer sufferer into question don’t understand the damage they inflict upon the mentally ill when the same love is not extended to them.

Biblical discernment is desperately needed in the church today.  We need to protect each other from the spiritual dangers that lurk around every corner.  The enemy of our souls is deceiving untold millions with his various perversions of Biblical truth.  We need to stand up for the truth of the Gospel no matter the cost.  Nobody wins when the church becomes the target of the church.  God has called us to higher things.

African American Mental Health Services A Concern In California, Study Says

 

Taken from the  Huff Post   which is located    HERE.

African Americans across the state have concerns that their mental health assessment and diagnoses are inadequate, according to a state-commissioned report issued today.

These inaccurate psychiatric assessments are a “part of the problem that leads to disparate outcomes,” the report said.

“People felt like they did not have a good assessment (from their provider) to understand what their particular issues are,” said V. Diane Woods,the founding president of the African American Health Institute of San Bernardino County and primary author of the study. “And if you are not getting a good assessment, you are not getting a good plan or care, and it increases the probability that you will be placed on the wrong medication.”

This is an issue of concern for mental health professionals nationwide.

“Due to lack of cultural understanding, some clinicians may misdiagnose African American patients,” Annelle Primm, the American Psychiatric Association’s deputy medical director and director of its Office of Minority and National Affairs, wrote in an email. “For instance, it is well documented in the literature that African Americans have been over diagnosed with schizophrenia and under diagnosed with illnesses like major depression and bipolar disorder. Expressing ‘healthy paranoia,’ regarded as a survival skill among African Americans, may prompt an uninformed clinician unfamiliar with African American culture to consider this as a symptom of schizophrenia or psychosis.”

Based on 35 focus groups, 45 individual interviews, 635 surveys, and 10 public forums and meetings with residents and mental health professionals from across the state, the report aimed to provide a more complete picture of the African American community’s experience with the state’s mental and behavioral health system, Woods said.

“Black people across the state wanted the population report to ‘tell the entire story’ so others could understand the lived experiences with and related to mental health issues,” said Woods, who is also an assistant research psychologist at UC Riverside.

Among the barriers to accessing mental health care described by study participants is a lack of culturally proficient practitioners and providers.

“I should have been in counseling a long time ago,’’ Helen B. Rucker, a Monterey County resident who is African American, told researchers. “I wish I had access to talk to someone about how I feel. But, there has never been anyone I could talk to who understood what I was going through.”

Karen D. Lincoln, an associate professor of social work at the University of Southern California, said that this dynamic can contribute to disparities in treatment and diagnosis. “There is a white norm around symptom presentation,” Lincoln wrote in an email. “If you aren’t looking for the right symptoms or if the language being used to describe the symptoms is unfamiliar to you, you can have disparities in diagnosis.”

Community distrust is another barrier to accessing mental health care, said Thomas A. Parham, a past president of the National Association of Black Psychologists.

“Historically, what has happened is African Americans are given more institutionalization and drugs as the treatment of choice as opposed to therapy,” said Parham, who also serves as vice chancellor for student affairs and an adjunct faculty member at UC Irvine. “You tend to have misdiagnosis because clinicians are not culturally competent. It diminishes confidence in the mental health system. It’s not all a function of the mental health system being unavailable; people also make deliberate decisions not to access it because they don’t trust them.”

San Francisco’s Paris Jonell Warr, 29, told researchers, for example, that “I personally need help, and I have been trying to get it from the mental health department. With my problem I’ve had since I was a child, I went to a therapist; all he did was give me medication. I need to have a good assessment of the problem. I am not getting the help I need.”

The researchers also examined some of the government funding streams directed toward culturally tailored mental health programs for African Americans in California. Last year they reviewed the prevention and early intervention plans submitted by each county through the 2004 Mental Health Services Act, which created a 1 percent tax on millionaires to expand community-based services.

Because a disproportionate number of African Americans go to the emergency room or are hospitalized for mental health conditions, access to prevention and early intervention are especially relevant to this population, said the American Psychiatric Association’s Primm.

“When African Americans with unmet mental health needs don’t have access to appropriate services early enough and wait until they reach the crisis point we have missed a window of opportunity and risk a poor prognosis and outcome,” Primm wrote in an email. “The margin of error among African Americans is very narrow due to contextual factors such as the social determinants of health and mental health: disproportionate poverty and economically distressed communities, racism, mass incarceration. …”

Although many county plans mentioned African Americans as priority populations, and Los Angeles and Alameda counties funded studies related to African Americans, only four – Butte, San Bernardino, Riverside and Monterey – counties outlined a plan to use Mental Health Services Act funds for prevention and early intervention programs tailored to African Americans.

The study describes programs tailored for African American as those that “are designed specifically for the population utilizing principles and concepts tested in scientific research and presented in peer-reviewed literature.”

But some county officials said that they had since added tailored programs. Sacramento County, which has one of the highest African American populations in the state, has provided $135,000 in Mental Health Services Act funding to a tailored suicide prevention program this fiscal year; the program will receive an additional $100,000 in these state dollars next fiscal year.

Toni Tullys, the quality management director of the Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services added that the prevention and early intervention plans are one – but not the only – measure of a county’s commitment to addressing the mental health needs of African Americans.

Tullys said that in Alameda County, Mental Health Services Act prevention and intervention funds are spent on underserved populations and other programs. Because African Americans participate in mental health services at high rates there, the county instead uses a different stream of money from the Mental Health Services Act to offer $1.7 million in grants to innovative community organizations working with African Americans clients and families.

The report also includes case studies of community programs that appear to be effective, such as Monterey County’s Village Project, which offers culturally competent preventive, early intervention and clinical services.

“These are tangible, realistic and viable responses,” Woods said. “What we are calling for is accountability across the state, that they no longer have to work in the dark. They can’t say that they don’t know what works with ethnic populations (when it comes to prevention and early intervention).”

In addition to directing more funding to community-based mental health organizations, the report recommends that the state support more data gathering on minority mental health utilization and outcomes, and analyze mental health screening tools used on African Americans, among other suggestions.

The study on African Americans mental health disparities is one of five state-commissioned demographic-specific studies conducted as part of the California Reducing Disparities Project, and these reports will be compiled into a statewide strategic plan that will inform how the state will spend $60 million in funds earmarked to address mental health disparities.

Bernice Yeung is an investigative reporter for California Watch, a project of the non-profit Center for Investigative reporting. Find more California Watch stories here.